From my older D&D days, there was often some disagreement on the size of any given adventure. Not in the overall arc, but in the size of the events. Way back when, my DM loved to throw very long and drawn out battles to test the player’s mettle. For those not familiar, in 3.5e, some battles could take hours to resolve due to the number of rolls required. Larger rooms with tons of enemies, or doors where goblins poured from, then traps and the like… it was a glorious mess! It also meant that after each fight, we had to rest, since all our skills had been depleted. (One of the fun perks from 4e was addressing this issue.)
The point here is that the DM preferred open spaces with multiple vectors of combat. There wasn’t much linear activity, the walls just seemed to ooze bad guys. Combat meant depending on the players staying close to each other, and moving as a group. Let me tell you that organizing 4 players moving in unison is a major pain. And it’s not like you can hide when the room is 20×20 – or worse, in some sort of open cave/field/forest.
I do remember playing with another group where their DM was all about hallways. You’d open a door, things would spawn out of that room and you were better off just hiding in the hallway letting the shield tank everything. It was quite jarring when compared to my normal group.
It’s interesting looking at today’s game design and their approach to encounter design. The player component is relatively the same across all of them, things are locked behind cool downs. Resource management is all but gone, except in the immediate sense of some sort of charge/discharge format. That “standard” means a more even footing when looking at the actual encounter.
There are still games that are target based, either through tab-targeting or turn-based activity. You select a target, move to them (if needed), and then “do the thing”. More and more are action based, meaning that you’re attacking in the vicinity of something, and hoping to hit something. This is more complex, as hit detection is ultra important, “magnetic locking” so that you aim in the right space, and the whole 3D orientation is key. Something like Destiny works because it factors where the player starts an action, and where the target is when the action finishes, with a whole lot of padding for errors. Valhalla has a really generous hit detection, for you and the enemies. Dark Souls is the opposite, where it’s extremely precise. Very different experiences.
Then there’s the actual space used for the encounter. Target-based combat tends to be in tighter locales, because movement is the real resource to manage. Ranged can’t hide, and melee need to get between targets as fast as possible. Divinity 2 excels when the rooms are tiny. When they get too big, it’s a real mess to get to any target. WoW is almost entirely tunnel vision, until you get to a boss room. Dungeons are made for 5 players, raids for many more… so space is designed to allow people to be about the room without too much stacking. It’s interesting going back into something like Ulduar now and see that design compared to pretty much everything that followed. How
Action games though… they hate small rooms. The challenge in most of those games is about throwing as much at you, from as many directions as possible, and seeing what happens. There may be obstructions, sure. But they are tactical, in the sense that they provide defence. Line of sight that bullet barrage, climb the tower to get a better view. They also tend to avoid the concept of AI-targets, where enemies prioritize their targets. It’s a free for all, and generally why this model excels in the pure action/shooter genre. It’s also why defensive options in action games are really quite hard to manage, especially in multi-player games. It’s really hard to replicate something like Dark Souls/Ghost of Tsushima with lag in an online setting – mind you, For Honor figured this out.
There are exceptions to these, certainly. DOOM is all about atmosphere, so the locations tend to be ultra-cramped. Fallout 2/3 are often about open spaces. It’s neat when you play a game and it subverts those expectations, and does so with quality. Now for the day where I play a game, find an open location with a bunch of healing stuff before hand, and it’s NOT a boss.